On 31 July Madagascar headed to the polls to elect local councils. The elections were one of last pieces of the transition roadmap that was designed to return the country to democracy after the coup in January 2009. Since it was finalised, the transition process has been implemented relatively successfully, but the situation remains fragile.
In the coup President Marc Ravalomanana was ousted from power. He sought exile in South Africa and was threatened with immediate arrest if he returned to Madagascar. In the end, he returned in October 2014 and was indeed arrested on his arrival. He was released only in May 2015 following an intervention by President Hery Rajaonarimampianina.
These events encapsulate the difficult return to democracy in Madagascar. In 2010 a new Constitution was approved in a referendum. In January 2014 Rajaonarimampianina was elected in a presidential election that was considered to be generally fair by international observers, even though some forces within the country contested the result. In part, this was due to what happened in the lead up to the vote. As part of the transition deal both former President Marc Ravalomanana and the coup leader and new president, Andry Rajoelina, declared that they would not stand for election. However, Ravalomanana’s wife, Lalao Ravalomanana, announced her candidacy, to which Rajoelina responded by presenting himself for election too, seeing her as a proxy for her husband. In the end, the Election Commission ruled against the candidacy of both Lalao Ravalomanana and Rajoelina as well as another former president, Didier Ratsiraka. Rajaonarimampianina, who was seen as the anti-Ravalomanana candidate, won the election, despite coming only second at the first ballot. Legislative elections were held at the same time, returning a divided parliament.
President Rajaonarimampianina’s presidency has not been uneventful. He soon distanced himself from Rajoelina and tried to shape the formation of the new government. In May 2015 he was subject to an impeachment attempt by deputies opposed to his governing style, even though the presidency has only limited powers under the 2010 semi-presidential constitution.
The most recent part of the transition process was the local elections in late July where the most important contest was the election of the mayor of the capital, Antananarivo. Here, turnout was low at about 30%. However, Lalao Ravalomanana was easily elected, winning 56% of the vote. Her TIM party, which was the former vehicle of President Ravalomanana himself, also emerged with a majority of seats on the city council. In general, though, TIM did not do so well across the island as a whole. Indeed, even though it lost this contest, President Rajaonarimampianina’s HVM party did relatively well at the elections, including in areas that had formerly been a stronghold of the TIM party. Senate elections are due to be held by the end of the year.
The question is whether Lalao Ravalomanana is merely the stalking horse for her husband. He is now free to come and go in the country, having returned freely from a foreign visit only recently. He is also back in charge of his media outlets, giving him direct access to the airwaves. However, he remains a very divisive figure on the island. Moreover, the parliament is still very divided. The transition has been managed relatively well so far, but stern tests are still ahead.